Stanley Yelnats and his family have been cursed for generations, and his bad luck continues when he's falsely convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers from a homeless shelter. He's given the choice of prison or Camp Green Lake; since he's poor and never been to camp, he chooses the latter.
He's disappointed when it turns out to be essentially a boot camp - with no lake - when boys dig 5x5 holes every day in the sweltering Texas sun to build character.
There's a very sweet relationship between Stanley - nicknamed "The Caveman" (all of the boys have nicknames like "Armpit" and "Barf Bag) - and "Zero," who can't read and is considered stupid. But Stanley knows there's more to him, and their friendship forms the backbone of what is an inspirational tale of endurance and doing the right thing. There's a historical subplot that follows Stanley's family curse. There's even a female outlaw nemed Kissin' Kate Barlow, who starts out as a kindly schoolteacher until a hate crime turns her life upside down.
"Her classes were often full of young men, who were a lotmore interested in the teacher than they were in getting an education.
"But all they ever got was an education."
Everything ties up in a neat little package, so this is the kind of book I loved as a kid (it won the Newbery Medal, incidentally). I love this line about digging in the heat:
"It was almost as if the temperature had gotten so hot that the air itself was sweating."